Guest blogger Leslie Budewitz – local attorney, research pro, published author, and a friend of mine - on getting the facts right.
As writers, we build our fictional worlds one detail at a time. If we get too many of those details wrong–whether in the foundation or the frosting–our readers’ ability to live in that world for a few hours crumbles. Still, you can kill yourself–and your story– trying to get everything right. What should you check and what can you let go?
- Check out facts related to major plot elements. If your villain intends to kill his wife with an overdose of insulin, make sure you know it can be done–and how.
- Focus on the dog, not the fleas. Don’t worry about whether a captain or a lieutenant would take charge of the investigation. But make sure you get the basic procedures right.
- Verify widely known facts outside your experience. If you’ve never been on a jury, talk with your neighbor who has. What surprised or upset her about the process? Was she intrigued–or bored? What were courthouse security measures? Where did she park? Did the bailiff bring donuts?
- Don’t risk a mistake in things easily confirmed. If you’ve never seen a purple Subaru, chances are they weren’t made.
- We often make mistakes in the things we think we know. If it matters to the story, check it out–or leave it out.
- Historicals attract readers who love history. And some readers love to tell writers where they goofed. Does that mean you can’t write about 14th century England because you weren’t born until 1970, or that you need an MA in the period? No. You need reliable references and a passion for the details that set the scene and bring the characters to life.
- Read your manuscript with your reader’s hat on. What might the typical reader question? Ask your critique partners to note anything that creases their brow.
- Accept that you’ll make mistakes. Don’t let that fear paralyze you.
Getting it right matters. But getting it written comes first.
Leslie Budewitz is the author of Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, October 2011). To learn more, visit www.lawandfiction.com